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History of our United Way

United Way of Gordon County begins its 29th year as a non-profit organization that raises funds for many agencies working right here in Gordon County. The history of how United Way came to Gordon County involves many local community leaders and one other well-known organization. Although the research is not totally complete it gives some idea about how United Way came to be in Gordon County. It also supports that fact that Gordon County has always been a community that supported those in need.       

Ron Woods, 1972-1973 President of the Gordon County Community Chest, explained how their organization worked with an all-volunteer board to raise $25,000.00 to support The Voluntary Action Center, The Winners Club, Boy Scouts, Red Cross, and others in the early days before United Way came into being. The Community Chest was in place for many years and eventually became United Way. Mr. Woods could not remember when the Community Chest began, but he knew that Dick Inman had been president before him.

Mr. Inman remembered his goal was $12,000.00 and he said they reached it. Mr. Inman said different community members were assigned certain areas-industry, individuals, small businesses, professionals, and others. The volunteers would go to these friends and neighbors to solicit contributions for the Community Chest. No one seemed to know when the Community Chest started in Gordon County but during a United Way campaign meeting with Santek Environmental employee at the Gordon County landfill, an employee remembered contributing in the early 1960’s. The Community Chest continued with a volunteer board until 1989. Many local leaders were president or officers of the Community Chest Anita Davis, Dick Inman, Ron Woods, Jan Goble, Jim Mathews, David Lance, Ron Dobbs, Charles Miller and many others. 

Jim Mathews remembered that Anita Davis handled the money and did much of the work. She was employed by the Great Southern Federal Savings and Loan and handled much of the day to day work. Mr. Mathews remembered that everyone took their contributions to Anita Davis. 

In April 1987, United Way of Gordon County received its 501(c)(3) designation as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. The change full change to United Way occurred later. Jan Goble was the first board president of the United Way of Gordon County. He remembered as a child bringing a nickel to school to buy a red feather for the Community Chest Drive. He was now the president of the group that would be changing the organization from Community Chest to United Way. According to Jan Goble, Mr. Pat Logan, a local mechanic, had a shop that was located on North 41 where the Painted Post is today. He left a sum of money to Community Chest. The current volunteer board felt that it was time provide more structure and control to the organization. An office was initially opened by Lori Etheridge, and Northwest Georgia United Way provided some assistance with the first United Way campaign. Northwest Georgia UW wanted to make Gordon County part of their United Way, but the current board was not interested in the merger and according to Mr. Goble the decision was the right one for Gordon County. The board hired Rebecca Owen as the first United Way Executive Director in 1989. Ms. Owen initially was a part-time director until 1990 when she became full time. She remembers having to go to the Wachovia Bank across the street from the United Way office to use the typewriter and other office equipment. Dan Davis, UW Board Member, was at that time the branch manager and offered his assistance. United Way of Gordon County flourished under the leadership of Ms. Owen. Many of the payroll deduction contributors who started giving to United Way because of Rebecca Owen are still contributing today. Ms. Owen was the longest-serving director from 1989-1999 and the most successful. Mr. Goble said that was the best decision they ever made. Jan Goble remembered that the year he was president of United Way of Gordon County was the first time United Way raised $100,000.00.

In 1994 Ms. Owen and a group of United Way volunteers began the first Unity Run. The purpose of the Unity Run was to kick-off the annual fund-raising campaign. This year will be the 25th year the Unity Run will be the official kickoff of the campaign. Although the route has changed, the Unity Run is still a fall tradition in Gordon County. Since leaving United Way, Ms. Owen has worked in the family business, Owen Detectron, and started the musical group Tapestry. Her son Justin has been a great board member who has taken over the company that is now known as Owen Security Solutions.

In 2013 the Unity Run added a special 1-K Kid’s Run sponsored by AGC Pediatrics. This event is held before the annual Unity Run. Children ages 3-11 (Pre-k-5TH Grade) run a specially designed route by John Rainwater, Track Coach at Gordon Central High School. The children follow the Gordon Central High School Cross Country team to the finish line on the Ratner Stadium track. Medals are given the male and female first second and third place winners along with the overall winner’s male and female.

From 1999-2001 Trace Vaughn was the Executive Director. Mr. Vaughn is now a Graduation Coach at Sonoraville High School and very involved in the community. He was followed by Ronnie Mc Brayer in 2001-2005. Mr. Mc Brayer was a local pastor who left United Way and moved to Florida where he is an accomplished author and continues to pastor a church. Following Ronnie Mc Brayer from 2005-2006 Chris Marshall, Joe Battaglio, and Debbie Baggett directed United Way. In September 2006, Vickie Spence began her tenure with United Way and is the current executive director.

United Way of Gordon continues to raise funds for the 18 agencies working to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Gordon County.

With a twenty-nine-year history of giving, this year the United Way of Gordon County Board has set a lofty goal for the campaign. Since 2011, United Way of Gordon County has exceeded the annual goal. According to Vickie Spence, current executive director the first few years were very rough with contributions growing slowly. Longtime manufacturing partners Mohawk, Shaw, Mannington, and Kobelco continued to donate but the needs were growing and the agencies required more support. In 2008 the $500,000.00 goal was exceeded but the recession hit and jobs went away making it difficult to continue the successful momentum started. Since 2011 with the addition of Engineered Floors and Bentley Dye the campaign has exceeded its annual goal each year. In 2015 Apache Mills joined the corporate leaders. Most of the major manufacturing companies are involved with United Way in a payroll deduction giving program for their employees. Over the years several of our major donors left Gordon County so attracting new partners is always critical. The most recent is Field Turf. Many of those who do not have a monthly employee giving are sponsors of the two major fund-raising events, the Unity Run and Dancing with the Stars.

Mohawk Presents Dancing with the Stars is the single largest fundraiser in Gordon County history. It began in 2012 as a partnership between The Calhoun GEM Theatre and United Way. Donna McEntyre, a local banker and member of the Calhoun Gordon County Community Foundation saw a program in Rome and brought it to Sarah Husser, Marketing Director for the GEM Theatre and Vickie Spence Executive Director of United Way. The two ladies along with a committee prepared for the first show held in March 2012. The success of the show was very unexpected and became an annual event with patron waiting in line for hours to purchase tickets. After 5 successful years with adult dancers, in 2017 the show changed to Mohawk Presents Calhoun’s Dancing with the Stars GETS SCHOOLED began. The first year the show involving students from all three public high schools was held at the GEM Theatre but the need for more space required a larger venue so it moved to the Calhoun Performing Arts Center in 2018. The one constant throughout the years was Mohawk Industries remained the name sponsor. 

In 2016 a request came from a Mohawk Industries’ employee to start a Young Leaders Society (YLS). After several months of planning the organization began under the direction of a new employee Ashley Goble, Director of Communications and Community Involvement. YLS is active and continues in the philosophy of helping the current agencies. They are involved in volunteer activities, fundraising, and other philanthropic activities.

Throughout the years, United Way of Gordon County has been committed to keeping its funds in Gordon County and providing the most funds possible to the partner agencies. The agencies have changed over the years but the process for determining the funding they receive has remained the same. Community volunteers are used to help determine funding amounts after visiting the agencies and studying their applications, board involvement and financial situation. Their recommendations are presented to the UW board allocation committee who make a recommendation based on the total dollars available to give each year and the full board has the final decision as to the amount the agencies receive.

Updated June 2018